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Bear Cans: Necessary when not required? What size for 2 people on 2 day trip?

Getting started backpacking - Was wondering if a Bear Can is really necessary if you are not in an an area where they are required.  Even if there are Bears in the area.


I am considering buying one just to help with things like mice, squirrels, racoons, etc. as I think they will be more of an issue where I will spend most of my time.



I have a futura Vario 50+10 pack and think the large bear vault will take up a majority of the packs volume.  Is the smaller version of the bear vault good for 2 people for 1-2 day trips?


Thanks for any comments


11 Replies

1) Yes, bear cans are incredibly useful to protect your food against things other than bears, especially their pesky relatives the raccoons!

2) One reason bear cans are required in so many places is no one generally uses them otherwise, and bears have become habituated to finding food at campsites. If more people used them, there would be no need to actually require them.

3) With proper planning and occasionally repackaging of food, you can get quite a lot of food into a can. Boxes don't fit real well, so just dumping a box into a plastic bag (with the part of the box with the directions!) can help a lot. We generally manage five or six days for two people with the larger can. I've never tried the small cans. I recommend borrowing or renting one for long enough to experiment. (Also, remember... 1) the food for your first meal doesn't need to go in the can because you'll be preparing it that first night but 2) your garbage needs to go in the can, and if you're not careful it can take up more space than the food!)

I grew up car camping in the Smokies, where bear-human conflict has been a problem for 50 years. Black bears aren't aggressive and generally won't deliberately hurt you, but even if you're not hurt do you really want the bear to eat what you were going to have for breakfast?  There's also the minor point that a bear that becomes habituated to getting food from campers generally ends up being killed, eventually. Bear cans are the easiest, most effective tool we have for preventing that from happening... It seems to me like they're well worth the trouble.

(I've never used the Ursack, and would love to hear what people think of it as an alternative.)


Presumably you mean 1-2 nights?  A bear can is generally not necessary for day hikes.

I have used a BV500 a BV450 and a Garcia.  Most of my trips required their use.  Other bear can brands are available. 

The BV450 is generally good for ~4 nights and the BV500 is good for ~7 nights.  The Garcia ~6.  Divide by 2 if you share.  You can get more in either if you are efficient with the calorie content of your food and how you pack it.  Removing packaging and packing bulk helps a lot. Generally you can carry your first day's lunch and dinner outside the bear can if you are careful not to leave your pack unattended at any time and you keep it sealed in a low odor plastic bag like a ziplock.  Also some campsites have bear boxes you can use for excess...but it is rude to put your bear can in there. 

Remember you need to store your garbage and any smelly hygiene or first aid items in there too. 

Bear cans are the best way to protect the bears from your food and keep other critters out.  They are simple to use and generally work so long as you take a few precautions like fully closing them when you are not actually using them and placing them in a location where they cannot easily be rolled away generally a distance away from your sleeping area.   While bears generally learn not to bother with cans,  bears with enough time can get still get into them so you still need to be vigilant and chase bears off if they show an interest.  I have never had to do this.

Their main disadvantage is that they are comparatively heavy and annoyingly shaped.

Other methods which don't have these disadvantages can work but they are much less certain. 

Bear hangs are a pita to do and difficult to get right.  They just don't work in some areas because either there are few suitable trees or the bears have figured out how to defeat them...why bear cans must be used in these areas.  They work best with deciduous trees and for areas where bears that are not habituated to human food.  It is certainly not a bad idea to know how and to always carry enough cordage that you can do a bear hang of necessary.  You might forget that you toiletries need protection

Ursacks can also work in places where bears are not habituated to human food provided you take measures to keep them as odor free as possible.  If a bear finds your ursack there is a good chance it will destroy your food since it will crush and puncture the bag.  The best advice I have seen if this happens, is to take a spare odor free bag to rescue your food so you can still keep your ursack odor under control after you have cleaned it up.  I have seen reviews that indicate the combined bear/critter ursack is imperfect and I think you may be better combining the plain "bear" one with a Armored Outdoor gear "ratsack" giving you more flexibility to take the protection you need for the particular trip without much weight penalty... but that is just speculation on my part.

Also bear in mind that none of these things are fully waterproof so it is best to protect them or their content with a plastic bag.



Why do you think it would ever be rude to put your food in a bear safe provided at a campsite?

It seems to me that the purpose of the bear safe is to make things are unavailable to bears, so what's especially rude is NOT to use the bear safe and to inadvertantly attract bears. 

I was recently at a developed campsite in Idaho that had bear safes.  The labels on the bear safes instructed people to put food and refuse inside, but the word "refuse" had been crossed out with a sharpie.  In fact, there was also a bear-proof dumpster for garbage, and probably they just wanted campers to use that for refuse, BUT my cranky camping partner didn't want to start a new garbage bag.  I told him to just put  the %$#@ garbage in the bear safe overnight because what's primarily important is, bears don't get into stuff, 

I can see where it might be considered rude to put your bear can inside the provided box if there's limited space in a shared box, but most places I've seen shared boxes there has been plenty of space. And yes, I would think it best to put the can inside the box, if there is a box, because the box almost certainly provides more protection. Bears can knock the cans around and occasionally even break them open. (Years ago one in Alaska apparently learned to roll the cans up a hill, drop them off the cliff at the top, and then climb down to enjoy his meal.)




I assumed from the context, that it would be clear I meant primitive wilderness "campsites" where there is typically no road access or garbage collection and may be only one bear box.  I guess not.

I think it should be fairly clear why it would be rude to use such a bear box if you don't need to.  Just as it should be clear why it is rude to park in a disabled parking space if you are not disabled even if the parking lot is empty.

It is possible that such bear boxes don't exist much outside of the Sierras where they occur in fairly remote areas around the intersection of where bear cans are required and where they are not so my point may be less relevant in other areas.

Obviously it does not apply to more developed campsites which often have a bear box per tent site or shared between one or several.  In that case it is no problem if you want to use it while you are using the associate tent site since it is intended you do so.  But if you are camping exclusively in this kind of site then you don't need a bear can at all. 


I've actually never seen a bear box outside of developed campgrounds. I know of a few backcountry sites that have bear wires... you provide the bag.

We generally carry our food in the bear can, and shove the can into the bear box on those occasions when we happen to be in the front country... at the beginning or end of the trip, or if we come out to resupply or something.


NO NO NO! I don't think I would ever carry my heavy canister unless it was required.

The lightest way to protect, is to hang, CORRECTLY, despite the 'nay-sayers'.  If you're not going to do it correctly (at least 10' up and 10' out, and not pulled up to a branch where a bear can crawl out and reach it), don't bother.

Next lightest, use an URSACK, be sure to secure it to a tree so a bear doesn't run off with it.


REI Member Since 1979

Yes, hanging food works, and certainly the line is lighter than a can, but in many places suitable trees just can't be found, and under the best of circumstances hanging food is a chore. Given the difficulty of properly hanging it and the lack of any real enforcement (i.e., education) in most places, I'd recommend carrying the can... it's reliable and requires no real thought.



Thanks.  There arent many trees around me.  Middle of a scrubbrush desert.  I am more worried about comfort and convenience and will likely replace some gear as time goes by with lighter items once I narrow things down.


Sounds like the Ursack or Bear Can may be the best options for me!!   I did see the Ursack has an optional metal liner if you are worried about a bear crushing your food.  I would think you could forego the liner if there was a low likelihood of bears and a higher likelihood of pests/rodents.